Crystalle graduates in style with victory in P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Crystalle, trained by John Kimmel for owners Tobey Morton and Chuck Hovitz, overcame a slow start to capture Thursday’s $100,000 P.G. Johnson, a 1 1/16-mile Mellon turf route for juvenile fillies at Saratoga Race Course.

The dark bay daughter of Palace Malice was disqualified and placed third after rallying from last of nine to cross the wire first in her August 4 debut at Saratoga. Away last of seven in the P.G. Johnson, Crystalle waited patiently under new rider Joel Rosario as Apurate led the field through splits of 23.29 and 47.19 seconds to the half-mile over the firm turf.

Sweet Melania, settled comfortably in fifth position under Jose Ortiz, advanced through the final turn with Crystalle following her cue. Apurate maintained her precarious lead at the top of the lane, but gave way as Sweet Melania took command. Rosario persevered with Crystalle in deep stretch as the filly found another gear and kicked home to win by a neck in 1:41.36. Sweet Melania held off the onrushing English Breeze by a half-length to complete the exacta. Rounding out the order of finish were Ginseng, Apurate, Lively Kitten and Lucky Jingle. Sunset Promise was scratched.

The victory marked the second stakes win of the meet for Kimmel, who captured the Evan Shipman on August 7 with popular New York-bred Mr. Buff – a top contender in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward presented by NYRA Bets.

Kimmel said he wasn’t sure Crystalle was going to get up in time to secure her first stakes score.

“I guess they just got a little tired up front and made her kick a little stronger. She was able to get up just in the nick of time,” said Kimmel. “With these horses their second time out, you’re always wondering about their change in demeanor and now that they know something about it, are they going to be aggressive and not settle? I was kind of worried she wouldn’t settle. But the way it worked out, she was well behind the field and gradually picked up her horses. [She] obviously had to go pretty wide to get around them.”

Rosario said Crystalle benefited from her previous race experience.

“She came with a nice run in the end. She ran a big race on the turf last time and she keeps proving herself. She was more professional today,” said Rosario. “She knows what she’s doing up there. It was a pretty strong run. It looks like she has a bright future, so we’ll see what happens.”

Kimmel said he will target the Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo on September 29 at Belmont Park as he looks to put the $220,000 March OBS purchase on a path towards the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Santa Anita Park.

“We’re thinking about Breeders Cup,” said Kimmel. “Now, we’ll probably point to the Miss Grillo and take it from there.”

Bred in Kentucky by Glendalough, Crystalle banked $55,000 in victory. She paid $5.30 for a $2 win ticket.

The P.G. Johnson is named in honor of the late Hall of Fame trainer, who for 36 straight years, from 1962 – 2003, won at least one race at Saratoga. His biggest career victory came in 2002 with Volponi, who pulled off a 43-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Live racing resumes today at Saratoga with an 11-race card highlighted by the $100,000 Lucky Coin Stakes. The first post is slated for 1 p.m.

By Paul Wager

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